The golden age of the big SUVs of the ’80s and ’90s feels practically Paleolithic when you compare it to an evolving generation of smaller crossover models, which drive less like trucks but still offer truck-like utility and surefootedness.
One of the classiest examples is the Cadillac SRX, a svelte and stylish five-passenger machine sporting all of the new telltale Cadillac accouterments (buckets of chrome, horizontal slivers of front and rear lamps, plus optional 20-inch wheels). But all-wheel drive makes it right at home on snowy roads, and the 308-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 will get you going and also get about 23 mpg on the highway. It’s definitely more fun to throw around than a gigantic Escalade, but all the good stuff is still there, including a scented leather interior and a full sunroof. See if you like the advanced CUE infotainment system, with an iPad-size touchscreen to dial in destinations.
If you want capacity for eight passengers but less of the school-bus aesthetic, the Chevrolet Traverse conceals its volume in a sculpted and almost carlike form. Despite a broader footprint than the SRX’s, the Traverse, with its 288-horse, 3.6-liter V-6, will also do at least 23 mpg in all wheel-drive mode. Optional second-row captains’ chairs break up the space in a little more family-friendly fashion. And regardless of the setup, you can still get 116 cubic feet of gear aboard. The 2015 edition of the Traverse adds optional 18-inch wheels and a hands-free control suite for your iPhone. If the Chevy-brand finery isn’t to your taste, the GMC Acadia and the Buick Enclave are similar-but different builds of practically the same vehicle.
And on the much smaller end of the spectrum, try to wrap your head around the concept of a tiny, Italian-made Jeep. e 2015 Jeep Renegade takes the platform of the equally unusual Fiat 500L and creates a short, boxy, fun—and handsome—machine. And one that’s surprisingly off -road-capable, especially in its more rugged Trailhawk version. The Renegade is loaded with character, including big headlamps, large front glass, and plenty of interior design upgrades, but it’s also versatile and will, with its 1.4-liter engine, get up to 30 mpg. Does its set of removable sunroof panels make it look a little like a Kleenex box? Maybe. But you might find yourself enamored with this Continental rock crawler and its surprisingly commodious interior.
2015 Cadillac SRX
Base price » $37,605
Highway mpg » 23
Ski-car nicety » Intensely heated seats
2015 Chevy Traverse
Base price » $30,995
Highway mpg » 23
Ski-car nicety » Ski-bag-friendly, 60/40 split layout
2015 Jeep Renegade
Base price » TBA
Highway mpg » 30
Ski-car nicety » Selec-Terrain system